You can see why they cast her as the pure one, Emma Carew, in the good girl-bad girl-good man-bad man love square in Jekyll & Hyde. Something about Christiane Noll just says "innocent." Maybe it's the blond hair and bright eyes. Or maybe its the sweet soprano or past stints as the singing voice of Anna in the animated "King & I"; Miss Saigon's Ellen, the put-upon American wife of the GI Chris; or Little by Little's Woman #2, the good friend who tries hard not to muscle in on her friend's boyfriend even though she loves him. But it wouldn't be Christiane if all that wasn't going to change. Oct. 16, the good girl declared "Now I'm Gonna Be Bad," giving everyone the "Fever" as she joined It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues in the role Carter Calvert originated. Noll took a few moments from testing recording levels on the tracks for her next CD -- a live disc from her evening performances at the West Bank Cafe -- to talk with PBOL about her first producing gig, her philosophy for choosing projects and her supplications for a chance at The Music Man's Marian the Librarian.
Playbill On-Line: This is a jazz CD you're working on? What's it going to be like?
CN: It's the live concert I did at the West Bank Cafe a couple of times. We'd done a couple of versions of it, earlier in the year. I've done different versions of it about four times , generally the same material, seeing what worked and what didn't. It's really cool -- I really like it. A lot! [Laughs]
PBOL: Well, it's good that you're happy with it.
CN: Usually it's more difficult to please me than it is to please the audience. So far, I'm pleased. I was talking to my co-producer on it and it was funny because she says, "Well, are you happy with what it sounds like?" We're just going through the mixing process and I said, "Well, I think so." She says, "What do you mean, you think so?" Because I'm co-producing, now I'm listening to it; I think I like what we've done, but now I'm hearing other people going, "Oh, she puts herself so far out front" or "Oh, she put so much reverb on it!" I think I like what we did, but now I'm second guessing myself. I don't know! But it's been really great. I'm enjoying putting it together and it's so nice to have my fingers involved in lots of different elements of production, not just in singing. The more you know about other elements of this business, the better it is for you. When I go back into the studio and I'm not producing and I have basically what I do behind the microphone and that's all the control I have, I will know what [the producers] have ahead of them. I will be able to give them more of what they need so they won't need to do as much later.
PBOL: You've done so many different diverse things -- from traditional shows like King and I to modern musicals like Wildhorn and that bouncy, cute Little By Little, then a jazz CD and now you're going to sing the blues. How do you choose these projects?
CN: I've always felt uncomfortable with being pegged as "You do this, you do that." I've always enjoyed doing lots of different kinds of things. The projects I've been picking have all intrigued me one way or another. Speaking of The Blues -- besides that I adore the blues -- When I was in Chicago with Miss Saigon, I spent a good number of hours at the Kingston Mines and just adored it. So be a part of a project like this is special. But it's also something no one was going to expect me to do. Even though I knew I could do it and people who were really close to me knew I could do it, the general public, for how they had pegged me at that moment in time, when I say "Oh, I'm going into The Blues," they say, "What?!" "Well, yeah." "Why?" "Because I want to." I say that on my [up-coming] album. "Some may ask what gives a musical theatre chick the audacity to think she can do jazz, let alone an entire evening of it?" And I say it's because I want to and that's good enough for me. I'm definitely up for surprising people, definitely keeping them off balance; rather than going "Oh, she's going to do another big soprano thing," going "What is she going to do next?"
PBOL: I didn't know you had such a love for the blues. Is there any particular number you're looking forward to singing?
CN: The way I'm approaching this piece, I'm really trying to stay as authentic to the source material as possible. So, as a result, I really have found the core of what each piece is doing. What I think is going to be the most different for most people is that Appalachian folk music at the beginning, "My Home's Across the Blue Ridge Mountains." There's incredible source material of this woman named Martha Hall that was recorded as a field recording, people going up into the mountains and going, "Can you sing? Here, sing." She started to sing -- there's no accompaniment -- basically just her sitting on her porch. It's very different. It's very beautiful on its own terms, but not what we would necessarily consider to be aesthetically pleasing. Not that I'm mimicking her, but I'm definitely trying to respect her spirit, because that's what this is about. PBOL: In all these shows you've done, has anything particularly strange, embarrassing or hilarious happened to you or someone else while you were on stage?
CN: There are a number of different things. When I was doing Grease and Sandy is doing, "I Don't Have You," this whole torrid, swoony wonderful thing, she's wandering down the halls and she goes to her locker to open it up. I'm going to pull it open and I couldn't get the locker open. I'm sitting there tugging on it and all I hear is the prop guy standing behind it giggling. I'm "grrrrrrrr" and I hear this "hee hee hee." He finally lets go and it goes WHOMP! as I open it up. A number of times my dress got stuck in tracks of the floor in Jekyll. Either I was supposed to trudge across with purpose and all the sudden I'd stop and I'd have to somehow manage to tug it out or, if I hadn't clear the wings yet, look at a carpenter and go "Help Me!. " Other times, if I was moving slowly, I'd just stop moving. I'm not moving any more because my dress is stuck in there. I think one thing that was funny, but was awful now that I'm remembering -- at the end of Jekyll & Hyde, the lights go out and all the stairs retract because we're down on the floor and there are stairs in the back. In the pitch black we have to check that everything is clear, get up, pick up my dress and run. Just run straight, go towards the light and clear the stage, and just believe that everything is going to be where it is supposed to be. Now, one evening, the stairs did not retract. I think it was because there was a traffic pattern or someone had not gone on or someone tripped or was moving another way, but they couldn't pull the stairs back. Well, I can't see that, so the stairs were there and I ran BOOM into them, like a cartoon character, just stopped and fell flat on my face. And Barry Ingrams said [in British accent] "And all I saw was a big pile of Christiane in a big dress like whoof on the floor." He had to keep moving because of the people behind him, so it was like the Keystone Cops, everyone walking on top of each other. Barry had to basically pick me up and try to carry me off stage because I was like seeing three people: "Uh, what happened? Did I make it?" And then everyone was giggling when I came out because I was sort of walking sideways. Barry and I had a lot of moments. Whether they were physical ones or lyric bobbles or him just deciding he was going to rewrite the play and me just saying "Okay, I'll go with you." He would say [in British accent], "She's wonderful. We throw the ball and she catches it. If I bobble it, she dives and throws it back up again." I really miss being with him every evening because you never knew, never knew, what the show was going to be. And you know for the fans that come daily or have seen it over and over again, they don't want to see the same performance again and again. The reason they come every day is because they want to see when you mess up. They want to see all the mistakes.
PBOL: Who is your favorite person working in theatre today?
CN: Brian d'Arcy James, in a heartbeat. I've worked with him twice -- on the Chess benefit and the presentation of Harmony -- and he is the nicest person in this business. And sings like a dream. Oh, my God, his instrument is absolutely extraordinary and so connected to his heart. I respect and adore him.
PBOL: Do you have a dream project or dream role?
CN: I am saying so many prayers for Music Man, you have no idea! I've been doing a lot of symphony concerts and added The Merry Widow, the operetta to my repertoire. My mother was an opera singer and I've avoiding her repertoire for years. Lately, I've found the voice and the challenge to endeavor to channel her. I think I'm building up the courage to try a crossover thing at some point in the future. I don't know if I'm quite there yet. Either that being an operetta piece or even an opera, something my teacher wants me to do in the worst way. That scares me! I've been enjoying exploring the upper elements of my voice and I feel as long as I'm thinking of heading in that direction, I'm only going to retain my voice for a longer period of time, singing healthy. I'm in this for the long haul. I want to be one of those 25-year overnight successes. That's fine with me. But, yeah, in the near future? Say prayers for the spring!
-- By Christine Ehren